The Spring Independent School District this week marks the passing of former trustee Thomas R. Early, who died on Friday, April 23. Early served on the Spring ISD Board of Trustees from 1981 to 1986, a time of rapid growth and development in the district. Early was inspired to run for the board in part due to his desire to ensure continued strong educational offerings for all students.
“He just believed everybody ought to get a shot,” said son Jeff Early, who grew up in the district and graduated from Spring High School.
Early’s two elected terms on the board – including a stint as board president during his second term – coincided with the early years of Gordon Anderson’s tenure as superintendent, and although the two didn’t always agree on everything, they shared a desire to incorporate lessons learned from business into the management of the school district. In particular, Early was a key proponent of the district’s first-ever five-year plan, which he saw as an important tool to support long-term administrative planning and results-driven academic initiatives.
“My dad was a businessman, and he said, ‘You need a five-year plan,’” recalled Jeff Early.
Thomas Early’s years of involvement with the district set him alongside many other well-known district trustees, administrators and namesakes, including Rickey C. Bailey, Andy Dekaney, Deloras E. Thompson, Dr. Joseph S. Beneke and Milton Cooper, who was a neighbor as well as a good friend.
Early especially enjoyed events that gave the district its unique character and brought the community together to celebrate students and their accomplishments. Jeff Early recalled his father’s friendship with Dr. Robert J. Hoyland III – a local veterinarian and fellow Spring ISD board member – as well as their shared love of the annual Spring Livestock Show & Fair and its culminating event, the live auction.
“He and dad would buy a calf every year,” said Jeff Early, “then they’d split it, prepare it, and he would take half and dad would take half.”
Born in 1933, the youngest of four sons and one daughter, Early was raised in the northern Texas panhandle, graduating second in his class from the local high school in Stinnett, Texas. Before he even left home to attend the University of Texas to major in economics and government, Early had already held part-time jobs as a ranch hand, an oilfield roustabout, a construction worker, and a farm hand.
Early went on to serve as a corporal in the U.S. Marine Corps in the 1950s, and also earned his master’s degree in economics and finance from the University of Houston. According to his obituary on the Dignity Memorial website, Early credited his time in the Marine Corps – with its focus on both personal discipline and “esprit de corps” – with helping to guide him “through school, his business career and life.”
While still in his second year of college, Early married his high school sweetheart, Jeanine Ellen Ross. The two were married for 64 years, until her passing in 2016. Their children grew up in north Houston, with their sons Jeff and Steven both graduating from Spring High School, while their daughter Jennifer later graduated from Westfield High School after that school was established as a four-year campus.
In addition to his service on the Spring ISD Board of Trustees, Early was Founding Chairman of the Education for Tomorrow Alliance, and also served as Chairman and CEO of Surgimedics, the first business to locate in the Research Forest area of The Woodlands. He also spearheaded the building of the Texas Marine Medal of Honor Monument in Town Green Park in The Woodlands.
Following a private graveside burial, a memorial service celebrating Early’s life will be held at 2 p.m. on Wednesday, April 28 at The Woodlands United Methodist Church. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the Texas Marine Medal of Honor Fund or The Woodlands Rotary Club Foundation. For more details, visit the Dignity Memorial webpage.